Recognizing the Different “Faces” of Depression

The most common symptoms of clinical depression are depressed mood (usually marked by feelings of sadness) and anhedonia (loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities).  However, the characteristic symptoms of depression may vary among different age groups of people. For example, teenagers with depression often complain of boredom while elderly individuals focus more on somatic or physical symptoms.  In some cases, people may suffer silently and even deny they are depressed, resulting in” smiling” or “masked” depression.

According to Laura Dunn, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine, depressed elderly also frequently “experience irritability, loss of interest in activities, and social withdrawal, but don’t necessarily feel sad. ”  Being able to effectively recognize the different faces of depression is important because studies have found that early detection and treatment are associated with better outcomes.  “It’s important to remember that depression is a treatable illness,” emphasizes Dr. Dunn.
For more information about depression among the elderly, go to the web site for the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Age is only one of several cultural variables that impacts the expression of depressed mood. For example, a person’s sense of identity related to ethnicity, race, religion, group affiliation (e.g., being a member of military or police department), etc can profoundly impact not only how one reacts to challenges, but also what is shared with others.  Skilled therapists honor a client’s cultural identities, and openly communicate with the client about how to adapt interventions to fit with their cultural values.

Note: Article originally published in 2005 (quote from Dr. Dunn was at that time); updated in 2019.